Page 2 July 16, 2020 EL SEGUNDO HERALD
It is with extremely heavy hearts that the
Coonan family shares the news that Kay
Coonan passed away at her long-time home
on Bungalow Drive in El Segundo, CA on
Thursday evening, July 2. She was surrounded
by her family. That is the saddest possible
news for Tom, her husband of 62 years, for
her six kids, her 12 grandchildren and for the
hundreds of former students that she taught
through the years.
Kathleen Mavourneen McFadden Coonan
(“Kay”) was the last survivor of her generation
of the iconic McFadden family of Springfield,
Illinois. She was born on July 11, 1935, the oldest
child of Louis and Alice McFadden. Lou was
a much beloved grade school and high school
teacher, coach and principal, and he and Alice
created a wonderful academic environment in
which Kay thrived. Kay enjoyed an idyllic
childhood pursuing her passions – playing piano
and consuming books voraciously. Her parents
had to force her to turn off her flashlight in
bed each night, put away her book and go to
sleep. She and her sister Carol endured endless
ribbing at the hands of their younger brothers,
Jim and Joe. The sisters would complain for
years about that but always viewed it as a
sign of affection.
On Thanksgiving weekend in 1954, 19-year
old Kay traveled with her best friend from
Springfield College and a collection of other
college ladies to Notre Dame by train for a
football weekend and formal dance -a weekend
that would change the course of her life.
Once there she was set up with Tom Coonan,
a junior at Notre Dame who had asked to be
paired with her upon seeing her that day for the
first time. What followed was truly a fairy tale
courtship and romance that spanned 65 years.
Kay and Tom bonded instantly that day over
their Irish heritage, their common values, their
faith, and their shared experience of growing
up children of educators. Tom was the son of a
college professor and a nurse. Kay expressed
a desire to teach children, and shared that her
dream was to raise a big, loving Irish-Catholic
family. Within three years they would be married.
In their first Thanksgiving together – just
the two of them in Anniston, Alabama - Kay
planned to cook her first turkey along with the
McFadden stuffing recipe. Tom asked her if she
would make the traditional Coonan side dishes
as well, and Kay was all too happy to oblige.
Before long she became an absolute aficionado
at every aspect of serving that
remarkable meal, and it would
become one of several things that
defined her over the next half
century as that Thanksgiving table
of hers at times grew to numbers
as many as twenty-five or more.
Tom and Kay moved to El
Segundo, California in 1958,
and then proceeded to have six
children over the course of the
next twelve years. Kay played the
role of Mom to perfection not only for her six
but for scores of others as well – as so many
came within her orbit in the neighborhood on
Bungalow Drive, or through Little League, Girl
Scouts, Boy Scouts, and all the countless friends
she welcomed with open arms to the Coonan
home through the years from St. Anthony’s,
St. Bernard’s, Notre Dame, UCLA, UCSB and
Santa Clara. She welcomed one and all to the
Coonan house and made each of them feel like
part of the family. They were.
Kay, possessing a teaching degree from Illinois
State Normal with an emphasis on childhood
education, was forever pushing her children to
read books, turn off the television, write more,
and work to enhance their vocabulary. What
a wonderful environment to be raised in. She
started teaching grade school full-time when
her twins, Tim and Terry, went off to college
at Notre Dame. She continued to teach at
St. Anthony’s in El Segundo and later St.
Mark’s in Venice for 27 years, where she had
the opportunity to do what she loved - shape
and develop hundreds of young minds. She
also volunteered for years teaching in adult
literacy programs, drawing upon a wonderful
combination of both her big heart and her
passion for letters. And she served for years
on the Board of Directors of the El Segundo
She was the quintessential grandmother.
She relished her role as “baby whisperer” to
all her grandchildren, whom she affectionately
called “the dirty dozen”. There was simply
no one better at working with a new mother
at those wonderful yet challenging moments
with a newborn, whether it be alongside her
own daughters or one of her daughters-in-law.
Some of the most meaningful moments of her
life were spent all alone in the middle of the
night with a new baby grandchild - letting the
new parents get a good night’s rest while doing
what she did as well as anyone
who ever walked the earth.
Through it all she somehow still
managed to have a fully-prepared
meal on the dinner table for the
family every night – regardless
of what craziness may have been
swirling around her in the Coonan
house. Each such meal was selected
from among the many in her recipe
box in a rotation, and each had
their own particular name, like
Yankee Doodle Macaroni or Hamburger A-La-
Supreme, served up with a host of mandatory
side dishes specific to that dinner.
In her later years as she started to feel less
compunction about speaking her mind, she
became somewhat famous within the family
for her well-timed, purposeful zingers. There
are scores of examples of this, but perhaps
the best came when she served as the foreman
of a jury. After a few frustrating days of
deadlock one older gentleman persisted as the
lone holdout. As the jury broke for the day,
Kay approached him and said, as only she can,
“If I ever serve on a jury with you again and
I see you sleeping during the trial, I’ll shoot
a rubber band at you.” The next morning as
they reconvened he came up to her and said,
“I thought about what you said last night,
Ma’am.” He promptly changed his vote, they
delivered a unanimous verdict, and they were
all home by noon. All Coonans are all too
familiar with the way he felt in that moment.
But she was right. She always was.
She was immensely proud of her Irish heritage.
She spoke often about knowing how to swear
in Gaelic, which she proudly learned from her
many uncles on the O’Connor side, but no one
can ever recalled any instance where she actually
used it. She always had a style and class
about her, and an elegance, and that would
have been out of character. She delighted in
Irish music. No child or grandchild of Kay’s
who ever fell asleep to her soothing rendition
of Toora Loora Loora, delivered just a decibel
above a whisper along with a soft, calming back
rub, will ever forget it. She always finished
with a very reassuring “Love you lots,” but
by that time the child was surely fast asleep.
She was soft enough that she’d cry for two
states when the Coonan family station wagon
would pull away from Springfield on one of
many cross-country summer vacations, but
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tough as nails when life required that of her
as well. She experienced her share of heartbreaking
tragedy in her life, losing a child just
days after birth, losing her beloved brother
Jim at a young age, and then outliving all of
her other immediate family members. But she
stayed positive, cheerful and appreciative all
the way to the end. Even when her body failed
her and her mind failed her, her indomitable
spirit persisted through it all, together with her
sense of humor.
In the end, hers was a life devoted to her
family, her love of literature, and her teaching.
And to Tom. Their love and affection for one
another never waned. What began as a storybook
romance remained just that until the very
end, with Tom, the consummate rule follower,
sneaking into her room from outside Kay’s rehab
center in violation of their policy just to have
the chance to hold her hand for a few brief
moments – demonstrating the same enthusiasm
for each other they had first exhibited as college
kids. What a rare and wonderful blessing she
was in his life - and what a blessing she was
in the lives of all the hundreds of others she
impacted in her beautiful and consequential
time with all of us. It may have been almost
85 years, but even eight decades now seems
not nearly enough. Not even close.
One of the last things she said on her deathbed,
as she struggled mightily to say anything
at all, was “I feel love.” So do we, Mom. So
do we. My God do we feel it! That is by far
her greatest legacy. And that will surely sustain
us now that she’s gone.
In addition to Tom, Kay leaves behind her
six children, Tim of Ventura, California, Terry
(Katia) of Tallahassee, Florida, Dan (Donna)
of Newtown, CT, Katie Pinkelman (Jim) of
Woodinville, WA, Nora Gervais (Neal) of El
Segundo, and Dennis (Emma) of San Jose.
And the “Dirty Dozen” – Colleen, Killian and
Erin Pinkelman; Bridget and Carrie Coonan;
Maddie and Grace Gervais; Claire, Tommy and
Kevin Coonan; Eleanor and Seamus Coonan;
as well as Kristina, Vlada, Phillip, Nicky and
Alan of Florida.
Unfortunately, a public service cannot be
conducted for her in the midst of the Covid-19
Sláinte, Kay. None of those characters you
read about as a child late at night by flashlight
had anything on you and the life and legacy
you crafted for yourself. Love you lots. •
Lifetime El Segundo Residents
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